Dylan Cleaver on sport

Sport analysis and comment from APN's Head of Sport Dylan Cleaver

Dylan Cleaver: 'Kiwi' Wagner's availability confirmed

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Neil Wagner. Photo / Paul Taylor
Neil Wagner. Photo / Paul Taylor

Ironic really, in a week when "Aussie Jim" Tamou has been painted as our version of Judas Iscariot, "Kiwi Neil" Wagner has had his New Zealand cricket eligibility confirmed.

Trying to navigate your way through this murky issue of national allegiance is fraught, from a practical and emotive standpoint. Suffice to say, there has been far less hysteria over the prospect of Wagner donning a black cap than there has been about Tamou having his palm crossed by $50,000 worth of State of Origin silver.

The consensus is that Wagner's availability is a good thing. At just 26, a left-armer and a genuine wicket-taker to boot, Wagner would appear to be a hand-delivered gift from South Africa.

He could even be fast-tracked straight into the test squad to tour the West Indies in July. He joins a posse of seamers with international aspirations that includes the evergreen Chris Martin, Doug Bracewell, Mark Gillespie, Trent Boult, Tim Southee and, at a pinch, Brent Arnel.

A bowler at his most effective when the red ball is reversing, he could find the abrasive conditions in the Caribbean suit him nicely.

Those expecting to see a genuine pace bowler, however, might be disappointed. The whispers from around the first-class traps over the summer were that Wagner's pace had tailed off, bringing him more into line with that New Zealand specialty of honest 130-135km/h toilers.

Some of that could be Wagner bowling within himself. That would be understandable. Veteran bowlers learn quickly there is more than one way to skin novice batsmen and bustling in at 140km/h-plus day in, day out can be counterproductive to long-term aspirations.

But part of that might be the workload he has endured at Otago. In the three seasons before he opted out of South Africa's quota system, the biggest workload he carried in a campaign was 216 overs.

For Otago, he has never bowled fewer than 219 overs in a season and over the past three years has racked up 302, 282 and 326 overs. That's 1129 first-class overs in four seasons.

As a comparison, over the past four seasons the younger Doug Bracewell has bowled 723 first-class overs and looked as if he was feeling the pinch by the end of the season.

Wagner has put in some serious shifts for a man renowned as an aggressive "shoulder" bowler.

He remains a Plunket Shield glutton, leading the wicket-taking charts by a mile in the past two seasons. Overall, his numbers are very good, with more than 230 wickets at close to 23.5 runs each.

But if eyewitness reports of reduced pace are true and the tailing off is not by design, then you have to wonder if his left shoulder has lost a bit of pop. If so, he might find the gulf between first-class and test cricket as vast as everyone else does.

One way or the other, New Zealand needs to find out - sooner rather than later.

- NZ Herald

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